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Subway Tile Installation: Three Basic Tips

subway tile layout lines
I usually draw two vertical layout lines for subway tile installations

Subway Tile Installation: Three Basic Tips

Subway tile- what’s not to like? It’s classic and timeless. A fairly easy tile to work with and install. And the white subway tile is usually pretty inexpensive. In this post I will talk about three things that can help to get you started with your subway tile installation. These things will work for any application, whether it’s a shower, bathtub, or kitchen backsplash.

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Ceramic Subway Tile: 3 Pro Installation Secrets

subway tile installation
Daltile subway tile installed on a tub platform

Layout Lines

When it comes to laying out subway tile, I always draw two vertical lines – one for each offset row. If I were to tile the back wall of a shower or bathtub surround with subway tile I would generally start with a vertical center line. Then off of the center line I would draw the offset line. So for a typical 3×6 subway tile these two lines will be 3 inches apart.

However, for 3×6 subway tile I usually draw the lines either 9 or 15 inches apart. Why? So I can get a trowel in between the lines. This allows me to trowel thinset on the wall without covering up the lines with the mortar. You can draw your lines 3 inches apart but you’ll have to back butter thinset on half the tile before you install it.

subway tile bullnose trim
Three bullnose options for Daltile Rittenhouse tile. They make both left and right out corners and they are labeled backwards in my opinion.

Bullnose Trim for Subway Tiles

Many people buy their white 3×6 subway tile at big box stores where the trim options can be limited. For instance, the 3×6 subway tile that Home Depot sells is from Daltile. But for a trim tile they only sell a 2×6 bullnose tile and a 2×2 out corner. However, Daltile makes some other options (page 4 in this link) in the same 3×6 white tile (color 0100). They make a 3×6 tile where the three inch end is bullnosed. They also make a 3×6 tile where the six inch side is bullnosed. This allows you to keep the pattern going out to the edge of the wall rather than break the pattern with a 2×6 bullnose tile.

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I don’t think Dal sells to the general public so you’ll probably have to order from a specialty tile store or maybe special order from Home Depot. But the 3×6 white subway tile is very popular and comes with many different trim options.

subway tile wrapped corner
Ideally you want the pattern to look like it “continues” around the corner

Carrying the Pattern Through a Corner

Generally speaking, when you come to the end of a wall and you want the subway tile installation to look like it “wraps” onto the next wall. A 3 sided shower for example: You would typically center the back wall so the cuts are even on both sides. Then you want the inside corner to look like the tile “continues” onto both side walls. One way of doing this is to take the actual pieces that you cut off and put those on the next wall. Then the cuts would be exactly like the subway tile pattern continues.

subway tile bullnose
There’s more options than the 2×6 bullnose shown in this photo

Most of the time you’ll want whole/half bullnose tiles on the exposed end of the wall. So you can layout the rows so that the big tile from the end wall meets up with the small tile on the back wall. And vice versa. Lay it out ahead of time and choose whichever way looks the best. Sometimes it’s right in the middle so that neither option looks good. We’ll cover that problem in the next post.

 

This post is just to offer some basic subway tile installation tips. The next post will cover some pro tips for subway tiles. Let me know what questions that you have in the comments below.

Ceramic Subway Tile: 3 Pro Installation Secrets

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10 comments

  1. I want to install beveled subway tile backsplash in my kitchen. What do I do about gap around outlet cover due to bevel?
    I don’t want a gap to show when viewing from the side.

  2. I’m doing a subway tile in my 3 wall shower, but there is a bench. I’m trying to figure out how to make it look like the tile wraps around the corners without messing up the lines on the wall where the bench is. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you!

    • Typically, I will make the main wall corners wrap and then try and make the bench look as good as possible.

      Sometimes sacrifices have to be made. But sometimes you can change the bench to work for the layout. Just do the best that you can.

  3. i’m doing a kitchen back splash which has a window with a rounded corners. the person i’m doing it for is using white 3×6 white beveled tile. what options do i have going around the corners?

    • I think your best option would be to 3-piece it. Put in a small 3/4-7/8 inch cut on the corner with 22.5 degree miters.

      I just posted a photo on my Twitter account to show what this looks like. The tile isn’t beveled but it’s the same concept for beveled tiles.

  4. When you get to the inside corners of a three wall bath surround , how much gap do you leave between the wall and the last tile on either side of the corner using 1/8th spacers? Thanks!! Ray

  5. Whatever happened to subway tiles that had a notch to butt them together? I like that fine line of grout. Home Depot and Lowe’s sell tiles without that notch… I fear if I butt them together the grout will not get in any nook and cranny not covered by the thin set. Are these ok to use or I am going to have to do 1/8 spacers?

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